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Fate System Toolkit

Kung Fu

There is regular, real-life kung fu, but that’s pretty much covered by the Fight skill. What we’re talking about here is cinematic kung fu, the high-leaping, acrobatic, melodramatic style of Hong Kong martial arts movies.

The overarching term in this section is “kung fu,” but that is just one of the many martial arts of the world. The rules here can apply to savate or ninjutsu just as easily, or whatever crazy martial art they practice on Mars.

This sort of kung fu is so dramatic that it doesn’t fit into a game aiming at a more realistic style, and it definitely changes the tone of even a pulpy action adventure setting. It can be bit overwhelming. If you’re going to include this crazy, over-the-top style of martial arts in your game, make it clear to your players up front that this is something characters—PCs and NPCs—can do.

In a kung fu movie, practitioners of the art are on a higher level than regular schmoes. If your game is going to concentrate heavily on kung fu masters, it makes sense for most—if not all—player characters to have this ability. If only one character practices kung fu, make sure the other characters have their own area in which to shine. Also, you may want to tone down some of the crazier stuff described in this section. You don’t want just one character dominating the action scenes by jumping all over the place. If everyone has the ability, then there is less danger of this spotlight hogging. Movie kung fu is a pretty powerful thing. If you introduce it, it threatens to dominate your setting.

Kung fu masters can run along walls, leap incredible distances, catch missile weapons in midair or deflect them with a weapon, fight on the most precarious of footing, and sometimes even walk on the surface of water. Pretty much anyone who has trained in the martial arts can do this. If a character has kung fu training, then these actions are treated just like regular running and jumping. A player can describe their character performing these actions without any special difficulty. The GM can still call for rolls, but these kinds of action are not exceptionally difficult or even unusual. Just adding these details to your game will create a lot of the feel of a kung fu movie.

There are two ways to approach kung fu in Fate. One method is to use existing skills to cover kung fu abilities and fighting. The second is to create a dedicated Kung Fu skill. Which method to take depends on the nature of your game. If there is only one kung fu master in your game, the Kung Fu skill may be appropriate. If everyone is practicing kung fu, it probably makes more sense to have everyone use the existing skills to perform kung fu stunts. If you go this route, a kung fu practitioner must have an aspect related to their training in order to unlock the kung fu abilities within their existing skills—something like Trained at the Wudang Monastery or Master of the Mantis Style.

Using Existing Skills

If you are using the existing skill method, then Fight obviously takes on a lot of the duties. Any attacks, bare-handed or with weapons, depend on the Fight skill, and Fight can also be used for defense. Since a kung fu master can also deflect arrows and other missile weapons, Fight is the appropriate skill for performing this feat. If you have a modern-day game, or just have guns in your setting, you need to make a ruling regarding how to handle a kung fu defense against them. It is not out of genre to say that a kung fu practitioner can deflect or even catch bullets, especially if they use a sword or other metal weapon.

Wall-walking and leaping are covered by Athletics. Any sort of physical stunt outside of fighting falls under Athletics or possibly Physique. Kung fu practitioners traditionally have training to resist damage or survive falls, which would be Physique actions. Lore can be used to identify rival schools or opponents’ techniques. A Lore roll can create an advantage, if you correctly guess the opponent’s teacher or school of fighting.

The Kung Fu Skill

If you add a specialized Kung Fu skill to your game, any abilities that fall outside the norm of Fight or Athletics, like leaping and wall walking, require a Kung Fu roll instead. This can be useful if you really want to differentiate Kung Fu actions from regular activity.

Kung fu practitioners often have specialty moves or secrets known only to them and their masters. In a game with a lot of martial artists, these special moves are a good way to make characters unique and create a sense that there are many different styles. Special moves can be modeled using stunts and aspects.

While most kung fu moves probably have names, a kung fu master has one or two signature moves that exemplify their personal style. These can be represented by aspects, like Dim Mak Touch or Hidden Blade Style. When invoked, a player can describe in detail the mystical or amazing nature of the action. These aspects should make the character look especially cool, and you can use them to show that NPCs know the character and their style, like “Don’t get too close, she’s a master of the Hidden Blade Style!” They can be compelled if an opponent knows an opposing move, just as a player can use his own character’s kung fu knowledge to analyze an opponent’s style and come up with counters of his own.

For a more mechanically robust version, use the stunt system to create moves. You can create a whole school of kung fu using stunts, with earlier, easier stunts required to unlock more advanced ones. Use the description of your stunts to create an evocative kung fu fighting style, with the names and effects of the moves driving home the theme of your fighting style.

Drunken Fist

Here’s an example of a kung fu stunt tree, for the Drunken Fist Style of kung fu.

The Drunkard’s Stagger: You sway and stagger on your feet, evading enemy blows seemingly by chance. When you succeed in a defensive Athletics roll using this technique, you gain +1 on your next attack against the opponent who tried to hit you. If you succeed with style, gain +2.

The Drunken Shove: Your rude and artless push contains a greater power than seems possible. You gain +2 to use Physique to create an advantage on an opponent by knocking them off balance.

Drinking from the Jug: You pause to take a swig of wine from your jug, fortifying yourself for the battle. When you have a drink during a fight, clear your lowest stress box. This requires you to take an entire action drinking.

The Falling Drunkard: (Requires Drunkard’s Stagger) When an enemy attacks, you lose your balance and fall to the ground, rolling back to your feet quickly, but your enemy now finds himself dangerously overextended. Roll Athletics to dodge. On a success, place a boost on your opponent such as Overextended or Off-Balance that anyone may use against him. On a success with style, place a second boost on your opponent.

The Drunkard Swings Wide: (Requires Drunken Shove) Your blows are crude and telegraphed, but in dodging, your opponent seems to be struck by an elbow or a knee by accident. Make your Fight roll as normal. If you strike your opponent, you do stress as normal. If you miss or tie, your opponent takes one physical stress anyway.

Pouring Wine: (Requires Drinking from the Jug) You take out a cup and pour a drink from your jug. This elaborate and difficult task causes a pause in the battle. No one may attack you while you pour, and you remove your lowest stress mark. This technique requires an entire action, and you may not perform the technique more than once in a row.

The Drunkard Stumbles: (Requires Falling Drunkard) You stagger and stumble without control, but your enemy always seems to miss you and strike a nearby obstacle, causing damage to themselves. When you dodge a blow with Athletics, your opponent takes one stress, or two stress if you succeed with style.

Steady the Drunkard: (Requires Drunkard Swings Wide) You stagger and seem about to fall, so you reach out and grab your opponent’s arm to steady yourself. This seemingly unintentional grip blocks chi and paralyzes your opponent. You may place a Chi Blocked situation aspect with a free invocation on your opponent. Your opponent may not use any kung fu stunts until they remove this aspect.